When Issa Rae turned up to host the 2018 CFDA Awards wearing a crystal-spangled sapphire jumpsuit with a black sash that read “Every Nigga Is a Star,” it was not only a nod to the famed Boris Gardiner song, but an affirmation that she was still rooting for everybody black amongst the nominees that night. But for the jumpsuit’s designer, nominee Kerby Jean-Raymond, founder and designer of Pyer Moss and a 2018 CFDA Fashion Fund finalist, it was just one of a series of statements he continues to make about the state and significance of black people in America.
Jean-Raymond’s Fall-Winter ’18-’19 collection was titled “American Also,” challenging the false narrative that there is only one type of American capable of making this country great. For Spring-Summer 2019, he taught the New York Fashion Week crowd a lesson, bringing the message home to the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, in the historic black community now known as Weeksville Heritage Center.
As Jean-Raymond told Vogue:
“I grew up nearby, in the ’90s or early 2000s, when the construction of the Weeksville Heritage Center was taking place. Finding out what it was all about was a big source of pride.”
Established by James Weeks in 1838, Weeksville was one of America’s first free black communities established after the end of slavery. At one time home to more than 500 residents with its own churches, schools and businesses, the once-abandoned community has since been revived as a historic site, performance space and museum, including four preserved homes which Jean-Raymond arranged to be available for tours before and after his Saturday evening presentation.
Taking place five years to the day of his first showing, Jean-Raymond’s nod to our heritage didn’t end there, as the designer joined forces with acclaimed artist Derrick Adams, “for us, by us” originators FUBU and ongoing partner Reebok to create his Spring-Summer collection.
From Adams, Jean-Raymond commissioned 10 paintings collectively titled “Family Portrait”; transposing them onto silk which was then transformed into artfully draped and pleated dresses and separates, as Vogue detailed:
There was a painterly image of a young black man grilling burgers printed on a simple white T-shirt, and a black page boy and flower girl at a wedding on an oversized silk shirt. Easily the most touching portrait in the bunch, and perhaps the most exquisite piece in the collection overall, was a black father lovingly cradling his baby, rendered in glittering beads on a shift dress. “Just black people doing normal things,” as Jean-Raymond put it.
Obviously, black people doing normal things has once again become an endangered activity, as there has been an increasingly outsized and occasionally armed response to normal activities like hosting a cookout, enjoying a day at the pool, or even relaxing in one’s own home, watching television.
It’s the type of danger that prompted the creation of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a Jim Crow-era safety guide which Jean-Raymond told Vogue served as further inspiration for this collection:
“It got me starting to imagine what the African-American experience would look like without the constant threat of racism,” he said.
In choosing to collaborate with the Daymond John-helmed FUBU this season, Jean-Raymond is continuing a trend of homage and revival he began with his tribute to Cross Colours in February.
“We wanted to highlight designers that weren’t seen,” he told Vogue. “These companies grossed hundreds of millions in their prime, but weren’t recognized in the same way that brands like Donna Karan were because they were considered urban, not fashion.”
FUBU’s logo shows up on several items in Pyer Moss’s Spring-Summer line, as do phrases like “See us now?” and “Stop calling 911 on the culture,” reaffirming Jean-Raymond’s commitment to being as confrontational to social ills as he is to being a visionary designer.
And his designs were both striking and thought-provoking; standouts were the saturated silk gowns and tunics, which added a gorgeously fluid counterpoint to the label’s boxier silhouettes, rendered in denim. Shown concurrently, his offerings for Pyer Moss for Reebok featured offered more prototypical tracksuits and ponchos—and of course, new sneaker styles. The palette was vibrant; graphic prints and primary colors playing counterpoint to blush, periwinkle, black and white—the latter also cloaking the gospel choir Jean-Raymond chose to open the show.
And once again, every single model was black.
And post-presentation, how did Pyer Moss celebrate yet another dynamic collection—and its fifth anniversary? With a cookout, of course! What better way to celebrate the culture, in a venue guaranteed not to be plagued by BBQ Becky? You know, just black people doing normal things.
Happy 5th birthday, Pyer Moss! Here’s to many more!